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Fredric Jameson – Fables of Aggression (1979)

Introduction and first chapter (p. UC Press)

Jameson’s Wyndham Lewis Book. He argues the Lewis is a proto-fascist and anti-modernist. These forms of aggression are molar re-containments of a molecular force which inheres in something like the individual sentence. So “style” and “narrative” grow apart. Jameson insists on reading this with a combination of Althusserian structuralism and Freudian psychoanalysis, which combine in the term “libidinal apparatus.” This becomes a useful way to track fantasy structures as the inhere in material forms. Read this way, Lewis becomes a means for both synthesizing and critiquing two dominant characterizations of modernism: those represented by Lukacs and Adorno, respectively (but really this is just recapitulating Adrono’s critique of Lukacs). The fragmentation wrought by the Real is grappled with in and through fantasy structures that necessarily fail and transcend that material “base.” This manifests itself in contradictions:

We will suggest that Lewis lived a grinding contradiction between his aggressive critical, polemic and satiric impulses and his unwillingness to identify himself with any determinate class position or ideological commitment…his ultimae fall-back position [is] Archimedean point of the pure eye. (17)

Rather than actively engaging in a political terrain, Jameson suggests that we see Lewis as an “impersonal registering apparatus for forces which he means to record, beyond any whitewashing and liberal revisionism, in all their primal ugliness” (21). Indeed, figuration and narrative frees the ideological content to “demonstrate its own contradictions” and, further, “project is own structural closure” (23).

This involves turning metonymy against metaphor as its determinate negation (30). [Read this in relation to metaphor more generally, as well as the “determinate negation” that characterizes self-preservation’s relationship to self-identity >>> i.e. rematerialization, Adorno, Levinas (giving matter back to matter via sensibility read as signification)] At times, metaphor goes completely silent, and metonym grinds along with mechanical regularity. [Read metonym non-pejoratively as proximity, against Jameson. rather than a binary of “mere reproduction of sentence matter vs. mysteries of poetic creation,” read poetic creation back onto the “mechanics of creation” (use Nietzsche and Bergson to do so, perhaps reaching back to Hegel’s PHL of nature, etc.)..also a time to ask the question: what happens to Freudian dream- and fantasy-structures after the pleasure principle??]. Jameson argues that these “early” sentences begin passing over into narratives themselves (Tarr in particular, but also in Wild Body).

William Hazlitt – “Gusto” (1816)

“Gusto in art if power or passion defining any object.” So already we have gusto–connected etymologically with the concept of taste–taking on an active, not merely receptive, role in relation to external objects. Furthermore,  gusto–in which the eye acquires “a taste or appetite for what it sees”–is the very thing causes the sense to becomes mixed, in which a visual scene (like a Titian painting) translates the corporeal element to the bodily senses: “where the impression made on one sense excites by affinity those of another.” This is why, when a painting has a lot of gusto, we want to touch them. The flesh is painted like flowers or like ivory, but like flesh itself. Paintings that lack gusto are often those that are “too perfect,” that rarify vision to such a degree that the other senses becomes “refined away.”

Taste (gusto) can be the means of defining an object. Can see in this an early version of Rancière’s distribution of the sensible–but one in which the outside world is NOT neutralized; rather, it’s power is translated in and through definition. DEFINITION is crucial here, as opposed to description, because it draws attention to shaping, defining power.

T.S. Eliot – The Waste Land (1922)

[Ongoing post]

Some critical approaches:

Franco Moretti, “From the Waste Land to the Artificial Paradise” in Sings Taken for Wonders (1983)

Moretti argues that Eliot attempted to solve certain social and representational  problems in the “The Waste Land” which could only be truly solved in mass culture–the skeleton that is the poem is deliberately unstable, provisional, pointing to changes that will be necessary for the poem to fill out the contours it projects. Nevertheless, the mythical method is not merely negative. it attempts to proscribe an equation between meaning and value in the word “significance.” Myth allows us to connect various registers of human experience…in so doing it tires to bring together “objective experience” with “ideal consensus”–the subjective satisfaction of the reader. But attaining this equivalence entails the poem’s relinquishment of its aesthetic attributes in favor of a classificatory structure: it becomes myth at the moment it ceases to become literature (Adorno is obviously lurking here).

Michael Levenson, “The Waste Land” in Genealogy of Modernism (1984)

The Waste Land is the culmination of a debate that runs throughout early modernism, between the celebration of the free, expressive artistic ego (Pater) and the celebration of formal, conservative constructivist impulses (Arnold). He reads the opening stanza-paragraph as a constellation of different voices that uneasily cohere within the voice of Marie: us, we, I, Marie: these pronouns and first-names become destabilized, intractable. he’s working towards something like “point of view” as theorized by F.H. Bradley. There is, in Levenson’s reading, a “disembodied” character to the consciousness on the poem, a curious forerunner to something like The Waves. Of more immediate relevance is the way in which the primacy of the impressionistic (impressionable) ego of Conrad and Ford is discarded in favor of an objective world that becomes increasingly determinate, to the point of coercion and confusion, of the subjective “point of view.”

Much of this is derived from Bradley’s critique of empiricism. Bradley argues that we divide the world into discreet objects as a matter of common sense, but that in reality that is an “Absolute” that subtends these contradictions and synthesizes them in a harmony. Eliot, however, comes away from Bradley convinced that some form of empiricism cannot be escaped. Indeed, the Absolute recedes in Eliot’s poem, but Bradley offer another term, “finite center,” which will somehow thread between mere anarchic futility and universal harmony.

This gets to the binary Eliot sets up between the mythic method and the narrative method (a binary we can already see dissolving in the opening lines, with commas competing with verse-lines for organizational priority). The “false” binary can be resolved in the context of history. If the mythic method refers to a history that poem is importing, then the narrative method highlights how the work itself becomes an act of literary history, or history-making. Thus the western literary tradition does not enter as passive inheritance, but as something that is penetrated by another tradition in the process of appropriation. But if the Waste Land represents the most tense dialectical mediation between romanticism and classicism, then Eliot’s later turn shows a definitive embrace of the classical, effectively reducing the globe to the contours of Europe.


E.M. Forster – Howard’s End (1910)

Start off with letters written from Helen Schlegel to her sister Margaret about her  (Helen’s) stay with the Wilcoxes. She’s fallen in love with youngest son Paul, which sparks a minor scandal. Mrs. Wilcox, the elm-tree symbolizing everything old and passing in England, settles everything. Time passes. Helena and Meg, and their younger brother Tibby (figure for Forster), go to a Beethoven concert where they meet Leonard Bast because Helen accidentally took is umbrella. The Wilcoxes move to London and Meg and Mrs. Wilcox become friends. Meg almost goes to Howard’s End but Mrs. Wilcox dies (she leaves the house to Meg, but Henry burns the letter). Mr. Wilcox pursues and eventually marries Meg while the Schlegels are moving everything out of their childhood home. Meanwhile, Leonard, who had been advised by Henry Wilcox to change jobs, loses it all together and teeters on the abyss. Helen is upset with Wilcox, who dismisses the lower classes, whereas Helen has fairly naive notion of charitable efficacy. Meg and Henry go up North to one of his houses. Helen shows up with Bast and his wife, both of whom are basically homeless , and Helen sleeps with Bast, gets pregnant, and leaves the country. It turns out that Henry had slept with Mrs. bast while married to Mrs. Wilcox. Helen eventually returns, pregnant. Tibby accidentally tells Charles Wilcox that Leonard Bast is the father. Henry tires to take control of the situation from a moral high ground that Meg undercuts by drawing attention to their parallel situations. Charles rushes back to Howard’s End at the same time that Leonard has turned up to apologize. He hits him the dull edge of the family sword and a bunch of books fall on him. He dies from a heart attack and Charles goes to prison. Henry never recovers. Meg, Helen, Henry and Helen’s child all live at Howard’s End, while London continues to encroach.

Key Passages:

The mask fell off the city, and she [Margaret] saw it for what it really is—a caricature of infinity. The familiar barriers, the street along which she moved, the houses between which she had made her little journeys for so many years, became negligible suddenly. Helen seemed one with the grimy trees and the traffic and the slowly flowing slabs of mud. She had accomplished a hideous act of renunciation and returned to the One. Margaret’s own faith held firm. She knew the human soul will be merged, if it be merged at all, with the stars and the sea. Yet she felt her sister had been going amiss for some years. It was symbolic the catastrophe should come now, while rain fell slowly.

An instance of the “One” that does so much work in this novel: Forster is self-conscious about the position his characters and his narrator take up towards reality–the one is only as inclusive as it is exclusive. And connect this to the “bridge party” in Passage to India, where someone “needs” to be excluded if it is going to mean anything. The exclusion in Howard’s End is overt:

We are not concerned with the very poor. They are unthinkable, and only to be approached by the statistician or the poet. This story deals with gentlefolk, or with those who are obliged to pretend that they are gentlefolk. (45)

Leonard Bast is constantly teetering on the borders of the narrative scope, “a goblin footfall” intimating the abrupt intrusion of the “unseen” on the “seen.” That these metaphysical categories, associated with the Schlegel “German” social idealism, map neatly onto the exclusionary politics of London society is exactly the point. In this way, it can be connected to “one of us” in Conrad’s Lord Jim, or the more overtly compromised “good people” in Ford’s The Good Soldier. Meg becomes conscious of the economic underpinnings that make possible the point of view assumed by the narrator: “islands of money” that cannot be shaken is what distinguishes her from Leonard, who always looks into the abyss. The concept of the abyss can be connected to New Grub Street‘s Reardon, who likens the process of writer’s block to walking near both a creative and economic abyss.

The concept of pastoral is also crucial: Howard’s End is slowing losing ground to the suburbs of London. Forster calls it the Age of Luggage, in which the English, no longer rooted to land, are reduced to nomads. Interesting in light of Marx’s stuff on the transition from Feudalism to Capitalism More locally, could be thought of in terms of Disareli’s “Two Englands.” that maintained a symbolic feudalism supposed to stem the cultural decline associated with capital flow.

Device vs. symbol: the wych-elm as organic symbol, the umbrella as a device that shed light on various social categories.

The ending is somehow too perfect. What is took to get to that ending: a couple deaths, an unwanted pregnancy,  and an arrest.

Also, in terms of ethics, Forster seems to be playing with the fine line between personal and systemic failures–how doe they differ and how do they converge. Can we think of personal failures as the realm of morals, and systemic failures (doing something that’s “right” but nevertheless “wrong”) as the realm of ethics? Meg finds herself negotiating these questions often.

Connect to Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, which is supposed to be a re-writing of Howard’s End. My question from Dori Hale’s class:

If a novel is meant to stand in a complicated mimetic relation to the raw material of a shared world, then what is at stake when the raw material becomes (at least in part) a shared text? The arena of critique—that convergence of text and world—becomes doubled by the convergence of text and text. Smith’s project, I want to suggest, dramatizes the non-coincidental agreement between these two convergences. The image of a rectangle (a semiotic rectangle?) presents itself. Each novel exists in horizontal relation to their perspective worlds (England 1900/America 2000) and these two relations are in vertical relation to one another.

So, concretely, the reader is asked to mediate this rectangle with questions that are always doubled: 1) Is Smith accurately representing the politics of a small liberal arts faculty? 2) Is Smith accurately translating Forster’s portrait of early 20th-century English class dynamics into the tangle of race/class dynamics of a 21st century New England college town? The doubled-question often requires a doubled, internally fractured answer: where answering affirmative to the first requires answering in the negative to second, and visa-versa. This does two things:

1) It makes a case for the strong relevance of an historical text to our cotemporary world, but qualifies this claim by enacting a creative appropriation (reading/writing) of the text as the pre-condition for relevance. Read this way, On Beauty is a long allegory for the practice of good reading. I’m thinking here of folks like Miller, Derrida, and Guillory, all of whom claim that (close) reading is the ethical practice par excellence. Wouldn’t mind talking about this claim in context of Smith.

2) According to the introduction to Thinking Allegory Otherwise, a recent collection of essays published by Stanford UP (don’t recall it, I’ll know it was you!), “The standard definition for “allegory” is to say one thing and mean another. Allegory has always demanded that we think otherwise” (7). What is this otherwise? In the case of On Beauty, I think it might be those spaces of non-coincidence, when the rectangle I described earlier fails to contain the doubled mimesis of text-world/text-text. So, this second point dramatizes the failure of the first, and the novel becomes a way of measuring these failures.

Where does this happen in the text? This is a question that needs asking, because Smith’s novel demands that we hear “Where does this happen in the world” each time we ask it. I’m not up to the task just now.


Yeats – No Second Troy (1910)

The poem is part of The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910). It explicitly refers to Yeats’ fractious affair with Maude Gonne, a revolutionary muse that married one of his friends. But this personal event gets couched within a mythical frame imported from Homer, which in turn frames the revolutionary impulses of the Irish. Thus a very good poem for looking at the convergence of the subject, history and politics. Formally, the poem is a series of four questions: the first two are entire quatrains, and they therefore lose their interrogative character as they expand from the inside into something very much like declaration. This reflects Yeats own ambivalence to the the political activities of Gonne and others. The final two questions, one line each (making to lines of alternating rhyme) intimate resignation and awe:

Why, what could she have done, begin what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

Here we see the problematic importation of the mythic impulse into the political landscape of 1910.  Yeats seems to claim that such fervor is ultimately destructive when unleashed by “ignorant men” without “courage equal to desire.” Thus “hurling little streets upon the great” is a diminution of the mythic impulse that cannot entirely disregard the heroism of this poetic-political activity, “simple as a fire.”